The last Saturday in April has long been the date for the Connecticut Sheep, Wool and Fiber Show and so it was again this year. The show was held on the grounds of the Tolland Agricultural Center located in Vernon, CT on April 25 on a near perfect spring day.
After a long miserable winter the crowd was eager to gain something that might give them a glimmer of hope that the worst was behind them, a baby lamb in a diaper might just do that as would newly shorn ewes. For the casual spectator there was much to be learned while long time supporters of the sheep industry found new information that might serve them in their everyday activities.
There were a series of free seminars covering a wide range of subjects. Dr. Mary Jane Lis, Connecticut State Veterinarian, was available to answer questions pertaining to regulatory matters and diseases of particular interest to the industry. Chris Woolybuns presented a talk about the care and management of Angora rabbit coats, which contribute to the fiber part of the industry. Judy Apicella spoke about healing your animal’s ailments with natural remedies. The basic design of the spinning heel has changed very little over the years and it might be said that they are low maintenance machines but from time to time things do go wrong. Jessie Hoadley was there to correct some of the problems, even inviting event goers to bring their cranky machines in for a redo.
No sheep-oriented affair would be complete without a sheep shearing demonstration. In cooperation with the Department of Animal Science at the University of Connecticut a small flock made the trek from Storrs to get their spring shearing. This ancient skill is always a crowd pleaser with the speed and skill of the ovine barbers always held in awe.
There were vendors of every ilk offering the products they had crafted during the long winter while others offered the tools they needed to make either their articles of clothing or to spin and dye the wool needed to make such articles. Others offered soaps, lotions and other cosmetics, most of animal origin, usually sheep or goat. These operators got extra mileage out of their herds and flocks.
In the Event Tent a variety of demonstrations were held simultaneously to educate and perhaps convert event goers to the various skill-sets that are associated with wool and fiber. Perhaps one of the more intriguing was that put on by the Bobbin Lace Group whose members demonstrated the intricate and traditional art of bobbin lace making. The delicate and complex designs crafted by these workers were dazzling to the untrained eye, far too beautiful to be used for anything but displaying.
Open to everyone was the Spinners Corner, where anyone could bring their spinning wheel and join those already there and spin for as long as they chose. The members of the Society for Creative Anachronism were outfitted in traditional colonial garb demonstrating traditional home crafts. Stephanie Morton, hand weaver, demonstrated the art of loom weaving.
No event of this sort would be complete without raw fleece for sale and there was a good amount of that basic commodity available for those who have the time and talent to take it through the many steps necessary to convert it into a wearable article.
Although not a part of the wool and fiber program, another activity going on at the same time could not help but catch the eye of those strolling the grounds of the Tolland Ag Center. A high hoop greenhouse was bustling with activity. Upon entering it appeared that most of the plants were a wide variety of edible greens many of which were being harvested by members of the on-site crew. A brief conversation with one of the workers made us aware that something rather unique was going on.
The greenhouse represents something of a phase one in this ambitious program. The greenhouse host many growers and volunteers each week while growing delicious and nutritious micro greens. It is open year round and supplies micro greens to area restaurants that seem to be very supportive of the program and are pleased with the quality of the product they are being delivered. The greenhouse hosts community workshops and serves an incubator for the larger vision. Beyond these activities it provides vocational training and horticultural experience for adults with developmental disabilities as well as senior citizens.
This program bears close watching as it moves through as a most ambitious program, one that may well serve as a model for others throughout the country.